Photo by Maria Bolton-Joubert
Tomorrow (Feb. 13), activists, concerned citizens and speakers will gather at Wekiwa Springs State Park to protest the state's boneheaded proposal to use state parks to generate revenue. There's currently a plan on the table, see, to allow hunting, cattle grazing and timbering in state parks because, according to state Department of Environmental Protection secretary Jon Steverson, the parks need to start earning their keep.
Even though your taxes pay for roads, schools and other public services, this administration doesn't really think they should underwrite state parks. According to Scott's office,
state parks attracted about 27.1 million visitors in 2014 and they generate "nearly $2.1 billion in direct economic impact" for the state." But that's not enough. Now the state is exploring an expansion
of the limited commercial activities conducted in the parks now.
Although Steverson says this isn't an attempt to turn the parks into "profit centers," he wants them to generate another $20 million in revenue per year to fully cover their operating budgets. This troubles activists and environmentalists who see it as an attempt to rent out park space and natural resources to the highest bidders.
State park managers would oversee the activities, but Steverson says private contractors would be employed to handle some of the work.
While all of this is going on, a story in Sarasota Magazine
says that there's a proposal afloat to waive state park admission for a year beginning July 1 – although it sounds like a nice plan, and the bill's sponsor claims it's an effort to draw more visitors to the parks, concerned critics say it's just a tactic to reduce income from the parks so the state can later force them to take on money-making ideas that'll help cover the bottom line.
If you share activists' concerns, join the Sierra Club,
Speak up Wekiva and others at Wekiwa Springs State Park (1800 Wekiwa Circle) tomorrow at 10 a.m. Use the code Sierra Club to get in the gate for free. The protest, which will also feature speakers who'll address the importance of preserving the state's parks, aquifer and more, is part of a larger statewide Save Our Florida Parks
protest. Similar gatherings are scheduled for nine other parks throughout the state, including Blue Spring State Park, Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and Hillsborough River State Park.
Check out the Facebook page
for more details about the event.